Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Winter's Tale

Recently, my friend John Winship was caught in poor visibility, strong winds, freezing rain/snow and was missing for two days in New Hampshire's White Mountains. I asked him about his lessons learned and this is what he wrote (published with his permission). I think you'll find it meaningful and profound.

"Solo expedition to Mt. Rainier in May: Cancelled.
Solo expedition to Mt. Cook/NZ winter 2010: Cancelled.

Although I did not request a rescue, I know that the damage to my body would have been exponential with one more overnight. I have already made a gift to New Hampshire Fish and Game for double the estimated rescue cost. I have also commended them to Governor Lynch for their selflessness and heroism.

This had to happen. I was addicted. I have been pushing the envelope for two years with ever more audacious speed climbs. Last year I survived a slab avalanche on Washington and went on to summit on the same day. Even that experience wasn't enough to wake me up. Although I have promised my wife that I would never go higher than 18,000 feet, I know that at this rate I would have found myself on Everest or worse within three years.

So many armchair critics, and hindsight advice! I carried 90 pounds of gear up! One critic pointed out that snowshoes would have helped on Day 2, and I retorted that a kayak would have been ideal on Day 4! Another well-wisher asked why I did not have a phone and GPS. Apart from the unreliability of lithium above tree line, I pointed out that I might have been tempted, innumerable times on Day 2, to call for a rescue, thus needlessly endangering strangers, when clearly I had the power to get out on my own. That person then had the temerity to reply, "But that's their job." To which I said, "Dying for me is not their job."

The critics have a difficult time comprehending (1) the ethos of self-reliance inherent to the solo alpine style; (2) the calculus of risk, error, and severe consequences in our risk-adverse society; and (3) the fact that being "lost" has a novel, unfamiliar definition for alpinists. I was only "lost" for the three hour duration through which I had been executing an unworkable plan, because I was not where I thought I was. The problem for speed climbers is that "getting lost" usually means getting lost big. At my pace, I had passed a point of no return far too quickly. Once I fully comprehended my peril, I made several adjustments to plan, and made a severe attempt to get out of Dry River Valley (and nearly died in the attempt) before conceding defeat and deciding instead to mixed-climb down the river.

I have the solace of knowing that no one was hurt rescuing me from my blunder. I will continue to day-hike, once I can feel my feet again, but no more pushing the envelope. I have too much to live for."


mxganse said...

They say you never know where the line is until you cross it...

Unknown said...

While I see his remorse, somehow I don't belive him.

He has a family stupid and selfish could one person be to put his wife and children through the ordeal.

I have hiked and climbed this area in the winter and I am an avid scuba diver. I gave up the winter climbing and deep dives when my kids were born.

Some people just need to grow up.

Sean Spiering said...

Hey John my name is Sean i'm from Canada i'm working on a ehealth near shoring project, i would really appreciate a minute of your time to discuss the reality of sourcing ehealth companies to Prince Edward Island. Is there a number or email i can reach you at. My number is 416 939 8763 i was referred to you by the ehealth initiative in Washington.